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What is the history of medicine?

  • June 7, 2017

history of medicineWhat is the history of medicine?

Modern history of medicine is considered to date from Hippocrates, a Greek physician (450 b.c.), who for the first time introduced the concept of disease as a pathologic process and tried to organize the science of medicine on the basis of observation, analysis and deduction.

Hippocratic practice did not include extensive use of drugs, probably because he did not believe in shotgun or magical remedies, but instead recommended judicious use of simple and efficacious drugs.

The word Pharmacology is derived from Greek words Pharmacoli (an active principle) and logos (a discourse or treatise).

Illness has been man’s heritage from the beginning of his existence, and the search for remedies to combat it is perhaps equally old. The world’s oldest known pharmacological or therapeutic writings come from India and China.

History of medicine in the west

The earliest sources of Western medicine come from Egypt and the two kingdoms of Assyria and Babylonia. The ‘Papyri’ were the first written account of medical experiences from Egypt, and date back to 1900 b.c.

The papyrus discovered by Eber in 1872 AD mentions about 700 herbal remedies, including opium. A Babylonian clay tablet (700 b.c.) mentions about 300 drugs.

Till the beginning of the 19th century, the treatment of diseases included such obnoxious remedies as flesh, excreta and blood of various animals along with metal and plant preparations.

James Gregory (1753-1821) was responsible for popularizing heroic symptomatic treatment consisting of blood letting, large doses of emetics and drastic purgatives, often with disastrous results.

Such treatment without any rational basis was called Allopathy (meaning the other suffering), a term which is still wrongly applied to the system of modern scientific medicine, as opposed to Homeopathy (meaning similar suffering).

History of medicine in other parts of the world

The recorded history of medicine in India is the vedas. Although there are medical descriptions in Rigveda (3000 b.c.), it was Charaka, and later Sushruta and Vagbhata, who described various medicinal preparations included in Ayurveda, the science of life.

Initially, these consisted mostly of herbal drugs and minerals. Thus, Charaka described about 300 herbal drugs and classified them according to their effects, mostly on symptoms, into 50 groups.

The original Ayurvedic materia mediea was later superseded to some extent by the alchemic or chemical substances at about the beginning of Christian era. The Chinese materia medica ‘Pan Tsao’ was probably written in 2735 b.c. and contained many plant and metallic preparations and a few animal products.

History of Homeopathy

The concept of Homeopathy was first introduced in the early 19th century by Hannemann who thought that “like cures like, and that dilution potentiates the action of drugs.” Homeopathy outlines the therapy for various ailments with drugs in very high dilutions.

The claims are, however difficult to understand in the light of present concept of neither diseases, nor can they be substantiated by various scientific methods applied to the study of modern medicine.

With increasing knowledge about the pathophysiology of diseases, their drug therapy has now become more rational based on logical thinking supported by comprehensive and objective information.

This approach reasons out why a particular drug is selected for a given patient. For this, knowledge of the mode of action of a drug, its effects on various body systems and the probable adverse effects is important.

The object of pharmacology is mainly to provide such scientific data, using which one can choose a drug treatment of proven efficacy and safety from the various options available, to suit the patient.

Development of modern pharmacology as a science is fairly recent and probably started taking shape following the introduction of experimental procedures in animals by Francois Magendie (1783-1855) and Claude Bernard (1813-1878).

Spectacular developments in physiology, biochemistry, organic chemistry and molecular biology have greatly accelerated the advances in pharmacology, in turn, pharmacology has helped to elucidate many basic physiological and pathological mechanisms in health and disease.

This was in brief answer to the question what is the history of medicine.

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